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How Reading Lights Up Your Mind

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  • How Reading Lights Up Your Mind

    How Reading Lights Up Your Mind

    By Christy Matta, MA

    If you’re an avid reader, you’ve probably had a moment when your book felt more real than the world around you. Curled in a favorite spot, you may have felt almost as if you were in Narnia, had traveled through middle-earth with Frodo Baggins, or felt Holden Caufield’s adolescent confusion and angst.

    Michigan State University Professor, Natalie Phillips, frequently had such experiences. She would become so lost in a book that the world around her would feel less real than the world created in the novel she read.

    Curious as to how this distraction — or perhaps more accurately, absorption in a book — affected the brain, she decided to conduct a study.

    Phillips teamed up with neuroscientists from Stanford University to determine if there were differences in brain activity between, casual, somewhat distracted skimming, versus captivated and engaged reading.

    What did they find?

    She and her collaborators hypothesized that the brain would show minor differences between the two types of reading, primarily in the area that is connected with attention. That is, they predicted that the area of the brain associated with attention would be more activated during engaged reading, than during skimming.

    What they found (and are still currently finding, as the study is not yet complete) was somewhat surprising. Brain activity during the skimming and distracted reading was as they anticipated, but brain activity during engaged reading was more global than expected.

    When reading in a focused and engaged manner, a number of different regions of the brain are transformed, including those associated with touch and movement. Phillips suggests that it is as though readers are placing themselves within the story as they read it.

    This study adds to a growing body of research on attention and the brain. In the new interdisciplinary field of literary neuroscience, researchers are studying the rhythm of poetry and how metaphor activates sensory regions of the brain.

    Meditation has long been studied to better understand how sustaining attention and focus impacts the brain. Studies on mindfulness meditation, for example, show that parts of the brain associated with positive mood are activated with the practice of focusing attention.

    This new study, demonstrating the global impact of engaged reading on the brain, is another step towards understanding some of the mysteries of our minds. It seems books actually can take us to the far reaches of the world.

    With advances in brain imaging technology, we are beginning to understand more and more about how everyday activities affect the brain, influence behavior and have an impact on our thoughts and emotions. Focused attention appears to bring a different quality to our experience.

    Today we often find ourselves making quick decisions, responding to competing demands and splitting our attention between multiple activities. The more we understand about the brain, the more clear it becomes that multi-tasking and splitting attention has an impact on our minds that is very different than that of focused attention.

    If you want to experience another world, skimming or reading while being constantly interrupted by outside stimuli simply won’t have the same affect. You have to carve out a quiet space for prolonged reading and sustained attention.

    Hi...Unsure just where to post this, might be science, but reading is good for one's health, as well. Joan This article is from Psych

  • #2
    Re: How Reading Lights Up Your Mind


    Good read, I agree with the theory. It's really enjoyable to immerse oneself in a good book [in peaceful surrounds] and be transported to places unknown, who needs 'mind-bending drugs' when a good book [or music] has the same effect.

    On a lighter [and trivial] note...when as a child after reading "Peter Pan" once or twice I was disappointed at not being able to fly



    • #3
      Re: How Reading Lights Up Your Mind

      I agree too. I'm an avid reader and always have been. I can remember how I was dying to start school so that I could learn how to read. I get through about 3 to 4 books per week. Naturally, I can't offord to buy that many, so I'm probably the local librarys best customer.
      I can still get so involved in a book that I simply don't hear what's going on around me. Many a time my Dad clipped me on the ear when I didn't hear him speak to me :smile: It was his fault...he was also an avid reader and had all of us library members practically from we were born.



      • #4
        Re: How Reading Lights Up Your Mind

        Yes, this describes me to a "T". Although, for some reason, I CANNOT read books online in such an intense way. There's something about holding the book in your hands, or up to your chest at times, as I do when a cat demands attention. This is one reason that I sell my books here part time, so I am able to talk with book lovers around the USA. (so far none from Canada, or Scotland!) I had two book orders come in today. Too late to pack up & send tomorrow. I thought that this article was great. Thanks for the comments. Joan


        • #5
          Re: How Reading Lights Up Your Mind

          I have around 100 or so of the Reader's Digest Condensed books which always had at least 4 books in each edition. Nowadays I tend to read Science Fiction and Fantasy books but increasingly I am using my Kindle to read books although I find it harder to find them on the Kindle than I do when looking for books on the bookshelf.